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Calgarians survive days in Honduran jungle following pirate attack

by Ryan White on 11 Apr 2015
Andy Wasinger, Captain Dave, and Loretta Reinholdt celebrate their rescue from the jungles of Honduras Ciro Vladimir Navarro Umaña
A retired Canadian couple from Calgary encountered pirates in the Caribbean Sea and lived to tell their tale. Loretta Reinholdt and her husband, Andy Wasinger, volunteered to act as the crew for a captain planning to transfer a 17 metre (55 foot) mono hull sailboat from Belize to Roatan in Honduras. Loretta, a former Registered Nurse, and Andy, a computer programmer, expressed an interest in sailing and the captain, an American named Dave, agreed to teach them the ropes on the private yacht free of charge.

On the evening of March 27, the three person crew experienced a rough night at sea.

“We anchored in the middle of the ocean and we had a thunderstorm so we didn’t sleep anything that night,” recalls Andy during an interview with CTV Calgary from a home on Mexico’s Yucatan coast, where the snowbirds currently reside.

“On the next day, the weather was pretty rough still, we had strong winds and big waves, and that’s when we noticed a small fishing boat approaching us from behind.”

According to Andy, the men on the fishing boat held jerry cans in the car and called for gasoline. When Dave stated he had no gasoline to offer, the fishing boat’s occupants did not reply.

“When the boat came closer we told Loretta to hide downstairs because we already knew something strange was going on,” said Andy. “Minutes later, we were boarded by armed pirates. They had guns, they had a harpoon and a knife. There were four of them.”

“I was so afraid that they would kidnap us and one of us would get shot,” said Loretta.

The pirates located Loretta and brought her to the deck of the yacht. Loretta, Andy and Dave were held at gunpoint on deck and the pirates screamed their demands for money.

Loretta says the crew of her boat complied with the requests of the pirates and handed over the wallets. The pirates appeared offended by their harvest.

“They put a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me if they didn’t get more money,” recalls Loretta. “This is when the captain did find some more money in his quarters, gave it to them, and they were still not satisfied.”

The agitation of the pirate crew escalated and the pirates seized control of the boat. The yacht was sailed into a hidden bay at a high rate of speed where it slammed into a sand bar, jostling everyone onboard.

The buccaneers pillaged the boat, cutting the main sail line and disabling all electronics by pulling wires. The three member crew was forced into the interior of the boat and told to stay there.

After a wait of approximately five minutes, the crew returned to the deck and discovered the pirates had left.

“We rejoiced that we were alive,” said Loretta. “A few minutes later, we realized they might be coming back for the rest and maybe to come and kidnap us.”

Loretta says the crew began to panic. Dave, Andy and Loretta disembarked from the boat, ran onto the shore, through mangroves and into the jungle, where they would spend the next four days.

“Our main problem was we had not water,” recalls Andy. “We were very fortunate, and unfortunate, that it rained every day. We had maybe four hours of sunshine so we got to collect a lot of water.”

The crew constructed basic shelter in the jungle after returning to the boat to pull the sail.

“Every day, we were not sure exactly what our plan was yet but we wanted to stay with the boat because our families knew, if they didn’t hear from us in seven days, that something is wrong,” said Andy.

Unaware of their exact location, the crew searched the area before encountering a trail which led to a parks entrance sign for the Jeanette Kawas National Park, a park only accessible by boat. The crew left a makeshift SOS sign built of sticks.

On the Easter holiday, Loretta and Andy stood watch on the beach while Dave returned to their boat and attempted to radio for help using the damaged VHF. The watchmen were terrified to see a group of people on the water’s edge.

“When we saw the people approach, we were so afraid it was the pirates again so we ran like crazy into the jungle and hid on a mountain there,” said Andy. “From that position, we could see the whole bay. We observed the captain leaving with these people, we still weren’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing.”

“We heard a boat approach and the captain was yelling ‘it’s safe to come out’. We still didn’t trust them because they could have had a knife on him. We heard another person speaking in English saying ‘Yes, this is real, this is a rescue’.”

Andy says it was a group of brave teenagers who noticed the SOS signal and came to the rescue of the crew.

“It was one of the best moments of my life. I was ecstatic.”

The teenagers called for additional help and police, fire crews, coast guard members, and officials from a nearby town responded to the yacht.

The mayor of Tela arranged accommodations for Loretta, Andy and Dave in his town. The Honduran government paid for plane tickets to return Loretta and Andy to Mexico and a helicopter was deployed to transport the couple from Tela to the nearest airport.

Canadian consular officials say they are aware of the attack on the couple and are working with local authorities to gather additional information.

Canadian Foreign Affairs reminds Canadians travelling to Honduras that serious crime is common and armed attacks on marine vessels have been reported. For additional information regarding safety and security in Honduras, visit Honduras Advisories.

Andy says the pirate attack and their time in the jungle strengthened the relationship he shares with Loretta.

“I know that we can go through anything in life now after this situation and we’re closer together now as a couple,” said Andy. “Live life as if it’s your last day, every day.”

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